Careers: Interviews
Tanuj Raja: Leading Wireless Authority and Vice President of Business Development at Sandbridge Technologies, Inc

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Tanuj Raja.

Mr. Tanuj Raja is Vice President of Business Development at Sandbridge Technologies, Inc. With more than twelve years of industry experience, Tanuj joined Sandbridge Technologies in February, 2002. As a member of Sandbridge’s senior management team, Tanuj is responsible for developing and defining the company’s global business strategy. Sandbridge Technologies Inc. is pioneering SDR (Software Defined Radio) based reprogrammable baseband processors for wireless handsets and has been recognized for its revolutionary technology by Forbes Magazine, winning the “Innovator of the Year Award” in 2003. In addition, the World Economic Forum selected Sandbridge as one of its Technology Pioneers in 2004.

Prior to Sandbridge, Tanuj spent four years in the Wireless Design group at Cadence Design Systems, Inc. where he held various positions such as Director of Business Development, Worldwide Business Manager for 3G Technologies, and 3G Program Manager. He also has five years of software development experience at Cadence. He has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference papers. His many speaking engagements include the PDA & Smartphone Track at the 2005 Wireless & Mobile WorldExpo held in Toronto on May 18th and 19th.

Tanuj has extensive business development experience in Asia Pacific and Europe; he has successfully developed wireless business opportunities with many Asian, European and US companies. In 2003, he was invited to join HY-SDR’s (SDR Research Center, Hanyang University, Seoul, Korea) as an executive committee member.

Discussion:

Q: Tanuj, as a top-ranking wireless expert, we are indeed fortunate that you took time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. Thank you.

A:  The pleasure is mine, thank you for inviting me!

Q: Tanuj, due to your widely recognized expertise and deep insights into the wireless technology markets, you were appointed as Committee Member to the HY-SDR Research Center. It is quite an honour to be the only non-Korean company represented on the prestigious and influential HY-SDR Committee (Hanyang University-software defined radio); demonstrating worldwide recognition of your expertise, innovative technologies, and commitment to SDR research. How did this come about, how will you contribute, and what will be the outcome from the group? Describe the major research initiatives.

Well, I have been working on wireless projects in Korea for many years and the Korean technical community is rather well integrated. I was fortunate to establish a relationship with Dr. Seungwon Choi, (professor at Hanyang University and Director of the HY-SDR). As we discussed the challenges of realizing a SDR based solution, it was apparent that we shared a common vision – to bring SDR based systems to the commercial market. Dr. Choi was kind enough to invite me to the join the executive committee.

Partially funded by the Korean government, HY-SDR is at the forefront of SDR based research.  Their research initiatives include R&D of core and application technologies of SDR-based multimode and multiband solutions. In addition, the goal is also to provide education and provision of trained engineers in the SDR field. HY-SDR is planning to develop a complete system prototype for network and handset based on reconfigurable technologies.  My contribution to HY-SDR is to bring commercial requirements of SDR for development of viable solutions appropriate for mid to long term commercial deployment. 

Q: What are your current and future goals as VP with Sandbridge and how will you accomplish them?

A: My role at Sandbridge is to oversee all aspects of business development for Sandbridge’s revolutionary reprogramable processors in the commercial mobile market. I believe this technology has the potential to change the way mobile phones are developed, deployed and used around the globe. In the short term, I am pursuing educating our current and potential clients on the benefits of SDR. In the near future, I am sure to see the launch of the world’s first SDR based handset.

Personally, I am glad to be an integral part of a company that is bringing a new, disruptive technology to commercialization. My goal is to make Sandbridge’s technology widely accepted by the wireless community because I believe this will truly usher in a new era for mobile handsets.

Q: Your work encompasses using a single reprogrammable ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) DSP (digital signal processing) solution, combining advanced baseband and multimedia processing for wireless handsets. Discuss the initiatives and outcomes from the convergence of Smartphones and PDAs. What are the key issues/challenges with device convergence?

A: Prior to looking at the implementation of a convergence device, one has to understand “what is a convergence device”. A wireless convergent device faithfully exhibits/performs all the functions of the original but separate form factors. In the case of smart phones and PDAs, I believe that combining a calendar, email, camera and voice functions are not enough. True convergence comes from the ability for users to be able to listen to music (MP3), download movies (MPEG 4, H264), listen to broadcast TV (dvb.h) and/or perform video conferencing, etc. Herein lie the key issues and challenges with device convergence. The ability to perform all these tasks requires a flexible computing platform and don’t forget that we still need to process all the baseband functions.

The problem is that there are too many different standards for performing these tasks and combined with all the different communication standards, achieving a true convergence device becomes difficult. So, I think the best methodology is to have a reprogrammable platform for wireless devices (similar to PC’s, where we constantly add/change programs depending on our needs). This reprogramable platform will give the end users the ability to add new programs in SW - based on necessity and desire.

One thing I can guarantee is that there will never be a device which will perform all possible functions, but with a completely reprogramable solution, it will be possible to have a customized solution for a particular audience and for a specific geography.

Q: Can you share with us three case studies involving your solutions?

A: We are currently under development with most of our customers, so giving out specific projects is not possible. However, here are a few examples of type of solutions our processor can offer:

1. Multimode WCDMA, GSM/GPRS, EDGE smartphone with GPS, MPEG4, MP3

2. GSM/GPRS with h.264, dvb.h

3. Multimode TD-SCDMA, CDMA2K with HSDPA with combination of multimedia functions

Essentially with the same processor, multiple combinations of standards are possible for customers to pick and choose desired combinations. 

Q: What are the major challenges in this technology?

A: As with any reprogramable technology for the mobile market, the two major challenges are:

1) Can the processor perform the necessary baseband processing in accordance to the standards requirements?

2) Is the power consumption of this processor suitable for handset deployment?

We believe that we have successfully overcome these challenges and are looking forward to demonstrating our processor over the next few months.

Q: Provide forecasts in the short, medium, and long term. Where is this heading?

A: In the short term, I believe we will see adoption of SDR-based solutions by the handset OEM’s to increase the number of models they develop. They may not offer reprogramablity to the consumers directly.  In the medium term, as SDR-based solutions become more pervasive, tunable RF will be added to make the handsets truly worldwide roaming with ability to make changes “over the air”.  And finally I expect that consumers will be offered a complete reprogramable solution – to modify and change, as necessary.

Q: Share your views on the Asian marketplace and specific areas we should be watching. Why?

A: Wow, overall market conditions in Asia are very exciting. There is so much going on in Asia that one could write a book! I’ll limit my answer primarily to China (this is what everyone is talking about!) On my recent visit to China, I was surprised to see the changes that have occurred in the last 10 years. The infrastructure, the technological advances are phenomenal. Until recently, China has been known to produce low cost consumer goods – look for China’s technical community to start producing world standard electronic and leading edge computers, mobile handsets in the near future. South Korea continues it’s domination on high-end consumer electronics (primarily from Samsung and LG Electronics). Japan has struggled in the past, but western style management at companies such as Sony is shaking things up.

So, in my opinion, China will continue to import technology based solutions and mass produce, in the near future.  The opportunities for US/Canadian companies will come from bringing technical know-how to China and then taking advantage of low cost production. On the non-technical side, one needs to understand that the Asian consumers are extremely brand conscious, so from a fashion perspective, one will see “asianization” of big fashion brand names, as they rush to capture market share.

Specific areas to watch are electronics, automotive and consumer goods. One big hurdle the Chinese have is patent infringement problems. This is one issue which could derail the entire Asian economy. The Chinese government is beginning to implement series of laws with the aim of protecting patents, copyrights, etc. Overall, with a global economy, I think ultimately consumers are the beneficiaries of lower cost, high quality goods.

Q: Detail a major challenge you faced in the past few years and how it was overcome?

A: When I joined Sandbridge about three years ago, Sandbridge’s product (the reprogramable processor) was under development. My thoughts were – the concept of reprogrammability is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t any handset company jump on the idea?  When I started talking with various companies, it dawned on me that change, and specifically a paradigm shift of such proportions is difficult for engineering managers and senior executives to embrace. A large part of my effort was focused on “educating the customers”. With time I was able to turn our customers into believers. Now our customers are our biggest champions.

In addition, in order for a solution to work in the handset a complete ecosystem is required. The ecosystem here would comprise of physical layer software, protocol stacks, multimedia codecs and RF partners, etc.  So, at Sandbridge we turned our energies to define an ecosystem where an entire set of third party companies have become part of the Sandblaster™ ecosystem. Now, instead of just a single processor product, we offer a complete ecosystem to our customers to choose the desired combinations or develop their own.

Q: Describe your work with Cadence Design Systems and lessons you learned that still impact you today.

I spent many years at Cadence, matter of fact; it was my first job after I graduated from College. I had various different responsibilities from product validation to project management in the product development group. Then I moved to Cadence’s design consulting group and began managing large complex projects for Cadence’s customers. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that client management is not just about making the deliverables. Typically a Project Manager thinks that by completing milestones as written in the project plan will satisfy the customer. A good Project Manager has to understand that managing expectations is probably the biggest challenge. A lot of promises are made to customers (which are never documented) during the sales cycle. A successful project manager has to navigate through these “soft” deliveries while making sure that the customer is satisfied and the project is profitable for your company.

Q: Here’s an audience favorite. Imagine you are doing the interview. What three questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?

A: Q1) What is the future of Mobile handsets?

A1) I don’t think anybody knows, really! They keep evolving - continuously. New and bizarre applications are dreamed up and implemented.

Q2) Has technology innovation become a thing of the past?

A2) No! We have only just begun; 25 years ago we saw the first wireless flip-phone in Star Trek, and here we are - most people carry a device similar today. So, it is in human nature to continue to innovate.

Q3) What is the impact of globalization on our industry?

A3) We live in a highly globalized economy. India and China are competing with the western countries for jobs, manufacturing and even high-tech design and deployment. In order for the more mature economies to succeed, globalization has to be accepted and embraced. We have to continue to innovate and keep investing resources in leading edge technologies – such as wireless, bio-tech, etc.

Specifically for our industry we are seeing a phenomenal growth in the wireless handset business. As the standard of living increases in the third world, consumers are demanding not just plain wireless handsets – but with increased set of features. In India alone the project growth rate for cell phone use is 20% per year. China is experiencing around 10-15% growth per year. And if you combine the South American and African markets, the wireless handset market appears that it is headed towards a healthy robust growth period. The biggest impact in the near term is that most handset manufacturers are outsourcing manufacturing to China; the idea is to build where you sell (and enjoy lower costs), but designs are still being done in various different parts of the globe.

Of course, we at Sandbridge expect to capitalize on this by enabling handset manufacturers to develop multiple new models with geographic context easily through our reprogrammable technology.

Q: Tanuj, thank you for taking the time to do this interview and sharing your considerable experiences, and expertise with our audience.

A: My pleasure, thanks for the opportunity.

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